Palace of Fine Arts 2015

The seven concept proposals for restoring and repurposing San Francisco’s iconic Palace of Fine Arts have been evaluated, scored, and ranked.

And if approved by San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Commission tomorrow, the top three scoring respondents, which does not include The Bay Club nor the Center for Global Arts and Cultures, will be invited to submit detailed plans from which the winning proposal will be selected.

The top three proposals based on their cumulative scores across the six categories outlined below:

1. The Maybeck Center at the Palace of Fine Arts: A mix of recreational uses, including meeting and event facilities, restaurants, historic displays and a “small-scale, world-class hotel.”

2. Palace of Fine Arts-San Francisco Arts, Crafts, Community and Hospitality: A renovated public concourse and Exhibition Hall, “that embraces the history, arts, products, crafts and culture of San Francisco,” along with 175 guest rooms across two new mezzanine levels.

3. The San Francisco Museum At The Palace (SFMAP): A publicly accessible museum and great hall, with a renovated Palace of Fine Arts Theater and “a destination fine dining restaurant.”

The full rankings and category scores for all seven proposals:

Palace of Fine Arts Concept Rankings

The detailed plans for the Palace of Fine Arts, which was designed by Bernard Maybeck, built for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and served as home to the Exploratorium for 40 years, will be due from the finalists this coming May (originally December).

The winning team is slated to be selected next summer, with the long-term lease and next chapter for the Palace expected to be written, approved and inked in either 2018 or 2019.

35 thoughts on “The Top Three Proposals for Repurposing the Palace of Fine Arts”
  1. Looking forward to one of the top choices become a reality. The work that the top-two candidates have done is quite impressive (Ferry Building, Cavallo Point, Argonaut Hotel, 1000 Van Ness) and should illustrate that they will do a good job with the exhibition space.

    There has been a lot of doom-and-gloom circulating on Facebook from people spreading a petition calling for no development. Most of the naysayers likely don’t even know what the proposals entail and how much work will be done. Many seem to think the rotunda is in some way threatened. Good thing this didn’t come up on the ballot, otherwise nothing would be done.

      1. That’s true, the petition has thus far garnered nearly 20,000 signatures. I bet the vast majority of those signatures were from people looking at the cover photo, reading the headline, and fearing that the development will in some way change the rotunda.

        1. Interesting that the folks who seem to be behind or aligned with the petition (Center for Global Arts and Cultures) scored lower in EVERY category, not just financials. They’ve been making it sound like the other proposals are privatizing the space, in comparison to their superior proposal. That’s clearly not true, according to the score sheet anyway.

  2. I don’t understand how the Bay Club is not considered public use. Anyone can pay them to join the club. Every other proposed use also requires some form of payment to use. Art galleries are not free. Hotels are certainly not free or even cheap. The local community would use the club everyday if they were members. Most people don’t go to art galleries everyday.

  3. I’m a member of the Exploratorium and only go maybe four times a year. I’m a member of the Bay Club and visit at least one location more than 6 days a week. The Palace of Fine Arts location would quickly become my go to club. The Bay club is not cheap but because of the value they provide I have no complaints.

    1. You’ve answered your own question. The Bay Club is not cheap – at all. It would be privatizing for a small group of folks with bucks to spend. “Anyone” cannot join the club…only a small subsection of the population has the means to afford it.

      Even if a museum or Exploratorium type is technically private and charges admission, it would have many more unique visitors each year (many from out of town), at a much lower annual cost per each. I’m surprised this is not obvious to you.

      I do agree with you on hotels, but the proposal with hotels restrict them to a mezzanine level and have lots of public space otherwise.

      1. I looked more closely at the plans and there is some hotel space on the ground floor, although the majority is publicly accessible space.

  4. I don’t think that it is inappropriate that this venue, which was built by the state, saved for the public, and has served as a venue for a non-profit museum for decades, continue to serve as a museum or other public purpose. And a hotel in this spot is not in that spirit. This isn’t just a shed; it’s one of the most architecturally and historically significant buildings in San Francisco, full stop.

    1. The exhibition hall is, in fact, largely a shed. A shed that have been pretty much completely off limits unless you bought a ticket to the Exploratorium for many many years. Any of these top three proposals will open up a huge amount of the ground floor to public uses at all times, while inserting some private uses in mezzanine level spaces. A great improvement over the existing, in my opinion.

      1. I should add that all of these proposals appear to greatly improve the permeability of the exhibition building, which will significantly improve enjoyment of the Rotunda area and connections to the Presidio. They responded to the RFP requirements well.

  5. Not sure why Lucas didn’t give serious thought to this location for his vanity project. The Palace of Fine Arts is an already built and much more attractive building than his initial proposal in the Presidio. It’s not like things are going smoothly in Chicago with his current plans.

    1. Very recent developments (and tweaking of the design to work in more greensward) seem to assure it’s being built.

      1. Thanks Orland, took a look at the updated design. San Francisco’s loss is Chicago’s gain it seems. It almost feels as though Lucas was trolling the Presidio Trust with his bland mission-revival meets big box retailer design and then he goes and hires MAD architects from Beijing and comes up with (say what you will) a much more engaging project.

    2. With all of the machinations about the Lucas plan, I never heard this was even considered an option.

      The advantage over these proposals is that Lucas would pay for the project and an endowment. Oh well.

  6. F-Line should extend out to this area, provide PUBLIC access to a PUBLIC amenity namely the Presidio.
    Ft. Funston, along the prior Pan-American Exhibition line and roadway currently can be transformed to a F-Line trolley line.

    do it the right way for the public’s benefit not just the private interests.

    [Editor’s Note: What The F-Line.]

    1. Hard to understand how TMG won the “public access” category. Looks like it’s 100% hotel and convention/meetings use.

  7. I don’t have an issue with a hotel/restaurant space per se (I looooooove Cavallo Point), but what about the size and location? We’re essentially talking about a crescent-shaped parcel of land bordering a freeway, right? I guess I’m just having trouble picturing how a hotel/restaurant would approach this location.

    1. If you’re having trouble picturing how a hotel/restaurant might approach this location, try clicking on any of the three proposal links we provided above (which will take you to each concept plan, including draft schematics).

    2. At first I also thought that it would mean adding multiple levels to the crescent shaped expo center, but the plans show how it barely goes higher than the existing building. Just like you mentioned, Cavallo Point is fantastic and if this is even half as good, it’ll be a slam dunk.

  8. Very exciting, I hope Option 1 or Option 2. I would love a place to eat on my walks or a nice place for guests to stay in the area.

  9. Is this considered part of the Presidio? In which case, it should add to the revenue of the Presidio. According to its charter, I believe it has to be self-sustaining financially.

  10. When facilities like the POFA are opened up to private/public use by the City, the entity leasing the property has to make it financially sustainable. And the only way to do that it to create a development that generates revenue. Plus, the City can’t just let the facility be used for free, they need to receive taxes from the property. Obviously, this limits the future use of the property. But renovating the rather ugly shed into a more useful space, doesn’t seem so offensive to me. I’d be more concerned about parking and other impacts on the neighbors. After all they already have to deal with large numbers of tourists and associated traffic issues. Oh and then there is all that really stunning public space around it.

    As for usopredictible’s comment about the proposals being trashy and the administration having no self-respect…how about a useful suggestion instead?

    1. I replied below. And FYI, it’s a useful suggestion to say that this administration has no self-respect. We’re talking about people who proposed using city hall as a “digital billboard”.

  11. A public use park, nothing more, nothing less. Use the shed for something like EHDD did for the land’s end lookout. Put a warming-hut style cafe in there. There you go…

  12. lets build a monument to Phil Ginsburg, the Great Privatizer of SF, who aided and abetted by the rich on the Parks and Rec Commission take away public funded places for private use. All at a time of incredible wealth being generated by pimply teens and hapless boy men in tech. Maybe have a hoverboard track and some bro-like attractions too.

  13. Only a fantasy, but it would be wonderful to see the current, blank east façade of the “shed” (now screened by trees) architecturally restored to its original pre-1964 appearance. It was as elaborate as the rest of the colonnade, and the visual experience of the colonnade/rotunda is incomplete without it.

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